Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pinocchio's Revenge: Thank God for Camp

Seriously who doesn't enjoy an awesome campy movie every now and then? Ashamedly I'm more into campy movies than I'd like to admit. I would have to say that about 1/4 of my streamed movies on Netflix have been Mystery Science Theater 3000s. Totally not normal, totally aware.

So I was bored out of my mind last night seeing as how I'm unemployed now and all and I found this gem that had been popping up on my recommendations for a while: Pinochhio's Revenge.

Yeah. It's exactly what you're thinking. Mostly.

So (wow I'm having a really hard time writing this without laughing) in the movie, Gotto is the carpenter that made Pinocchio. Gotto is also a convicted serial killer who is allegedly crazy and gets a death sentence about ten minutes into the movie. Enter mom, whose name I can't remember, and her child, some little bratty girl with curled hair and emotional problems from her parents' recent divorce (surprise, surprise). Mom also has a boyfriend who is way too good to be true and a nanny who is Italian and the film's token hot chick.

The movie is bizarre (as if you couldn't decipher that from all I've said so far). Surprisingly I was more scared by the possessed toy than I thought I'd be, but I think that that's just an imbedded childhood fear of being killed by malicious toys that I didn't love enough (back off ok? I took the wrong lesson away from Toy Story). But nevertheless the film was exactly as deliciously lackluster as I dreamed.

I mean, really, you could check off their plot on a scary movie requirements list:
- Mom is a working single parent who has an obviously disturbed child, but somehow overlooks this herself (see The Ring, Dark Water, Hide and Seek, Carrie, etc)
- Mom has a useless significant other who gets killed by either killer or obviously disturbed child (see The Ring, Hide and Seek, The Shining, Pet Sematary, etc)
- Gratuitous nudity and sex scenes (see all of the Halloweens, and basically any other slasher film ever made)
- Parent doesn't believe their child's claims that there is a murderer somewhere (see Amityville Horror, Child's Play, Darkness Falls, etc)
- Parent either dies or lives with some kind of horrible knowledge that their child was right and they were stupid (all of the films that I just listed, basically)

Check, check, check, check. Bingo! We have a campy horror flick. Pinocchio's Revenge does have a bit of an interesting plot twist at the end though, if you watch it (which I doubt) hang in until the end because I was trying to figure out how Pinocchio got out of the trunk at the end.

Final Analysis: Very terrible in a delightful way. Unless you're afraid of possessed dolls.

3 outa 5

So this may be a bit of a copout...

But since I'm already writing reviews for and they are about current movies, I'm just gonna copy and post them interchangeably onto both sites. So...thats all.

The Help needs help

So I finally went and saw The Help the other day after about a month of searching for the right time to fit into my schedule and I’ve got to say, I was a little disappointed.

The plot of the film revolves around two black maids, Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer) who both work for white families, and a white girl named Skeeter Phelan (Emma Stone). In the beginning, Skeeter has just graduated from college and is trying to become a writer but receives a decline letter from a publishing company in New York. However, the letter comes with an upside that if Skeeter can swing it, she should just start writing about things that bother her. Well guess what she decides to write about?

If your guess was the black maids then you were correct.

She ends up setting up interviews with Aibileen, who works for Skeeter’s best friend Elizabeth (Ahna O’Reilly), trying to see what her life is actually like with this job. Aibileen then recruits her best friend, sass-mouth Minny, to join in with her. Aibileen and Minny’s side of the story really drives the interesting part of the plot, showing the audience all the nonsense that they have to put up with like taking blame (or not!) for things they didn’t do, raising white babies, and really ugly stuff like the penalties of dissatisfying particularly cruel white women.

Basically my problem with this movie had nothing to do with the three main characters, who were all very interesting in their own ways. Skeeter is an open-minded postgraduate trying to find out why color matters so much, why her childhood maid (who was really more like her mother) disappeared, what she’s going to do about her mother having cancer, and what the heck she’s going to do with her life. Aibileen is a soft-hearted woman getting over the loss of her 24-year-old son, trying to raise a child for another woman, and becoming a writer through Skeeter’s book. Minny is probably the most hilarious as the strong-willed maid who doesn’t take shit from anybody (though she can sure dish it out, pun intended).

However, this movie has a problem that no one seems to be able to really solve which is: how the hell can you dare to make a melodrama about such a horrific time period? There seems to be the same problem in The Secret Life of Bees. It’s almost like a reverse Gone With the Wind, in which the main plot is driven by a white person who is sympathetic to the black situation. And, granted, The Help at least has Aibileen as a narrator to equal things out a bit, but seems to fall into the same mold. The story is pretty good but the minor characters become caricatures in that kind of a backdrop. Therefore there are the three realistic characters but there are also The Sadistic White Bitch, Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard); The Simple-Hearted Hick, Celia (Jessica Chastain); and the Bad Mother, Elizabeth.

There aren’t really very many black characters to even out the obnoxious white ones, though they obviously tried to. You might spot the soda jerk as Lafayette from HBO’s series True Blood and the one minor maid Yule Mae is impressionable but that is about it.

There also seems to be a serious lack of the actual danger surrounding these women and their project. Although the book makes a point to highlight what would happen to them if they were caught, the movie settles with one major hate crime to cover it all. But it kind of doesn’t do the time period justice. This is a time when people were still being lynched, when interracial marriage was illegal, when literally anything a black person did wrong was punishable by creative forms of torture. Yet Skeeter flits in and out of Aibileen’s house with nothing but a scarf on her head assuming no one will bat an eyelash.

All in all, not bad, but decidedly unrealistic, which I guess is what it had to be in order to be a heart-warming tale instead of a terrifying documentary.

3 outa 5 stars.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Contagion in one word: "Ewww"

Literally just got back from seeing Contagion and, wow, if there are two things on my mind right now they are "Lysol" and "gun". But, to be fair, obviously this was designed to be a "what-if?" kind of movie and it certainly served its purpose well. Yikes!

The film is a theoretical look at what would happen today if there were and outbreak of a new virus, much like the Spanish Influenza Epidemic of the early 20th century. The result that they confront their audience with is frighteningly realistic.

The beginning character, Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow), is shown talking on her cell phone to an unidentified man in the beginning shot and doesn't look very well. Over the next two days she goes from looking like she has a bad cold to dying, leaving her husband (Matt Damon) in confusion and with a terrified phone call from the babysitter, learning that his son has now suffered from the illness as well.

It then goes on to form a spiderweb sort of plot in which one subplot revolves around Matt Damon and his surviving daughter trying to live in a condemned neighborhood; another in which scientists are looking for a cure; another in which the government has to decide what to do with the people; another in which Jude Law blogs about possible cures; another in which a French woman is held hostage for a village vaccination; and a few others. It really looks at this issue from every angle, from the defenseless public to the frantic government who can't seem to get the situation under control.

The epidemic occurring in the movie appears to be like a modern-day Black Death. The virus has an incubation period of about two or three days, showing symptoms such as coughing and lung congestion, and after that the body goes into seizures after which death is imminent. Bodies are not allowed to be buried, being a liability for the gravediggers, and funerals are out of the question. Bodies are put into bags, sealing off the disease, and put into mass graves which are dug and covered by people in full bodied protective suits. Cities are quarantined, buildings are broken into, people are killed, taken hostage and robbed.

Even further than the obvious human nature questions, though, Contagion goes on to question many other facets of the social impact of an epidemic with attention to what the internet is capable of, what people are capable of doing in order to preserve themselves, and the complicated question of vaccines. In short: don't see this movie if you're depressed. While every question is intelligently answered and examined, the background for the film is one of terror. Where did the virus come from? Who is immune? What about transportation? Quarantines? Vaccinations? Food? Protection? Healthcare? The panic that befalls the general public is portrayed with what seems like a sickening accuracy.

Despite the desperate nature of the movie, though, I would still recommend it. Steven Soderburgh does wonders with his attention to human emotion, durability, and fear. Albeit a bit of a downer, there are glimpses into the good that men can do as well as the bad. Where there are lootings and rushes for any possible food, there is also human love and perseverance. Soderburgh creates a horrifying yet comforting portrayal of a horrible situation.

In terms of acting quality and the aesthetic of the film, going a bit outside the realm of analysis (as usual), I was shocked at how many stars I saw in this film. Kate Winslet, Lawrence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Jude Law (with REALLY bad teeth, woah!), Marion Cotillard, Demetri Martin, Jennifer Ehle, and a LOT of others. In addition, the cinematography seems to be very somber but realistic. The camera never stays still for very long, giving an element of unease to the film as a whole. Overall very beautiful, very scary movie.

Guess I'll stop Lysoling this keyboard now.

4 outa 5 stars.

Monday, September 12, 2011

another vampire movie?

So a few weeks ago, my mother and I had a hankering for a movie so we basically went with whatever was playing at 7 (Mom has a rule about seeing movies past 10). The film we ended up seeing was Fright Night 3D. Now, unfortunately, I still can't really understand the logic behind making everything 3D. Though it seems to be used as a market ploy to attract audiences, the only films that seem to get away with it are either really badass movies like Harry Potter or something really silly like whatever latest Disney 3D movie came out (Cars 2? no?). Long story short, I'm not a big fan of the 3D thing.

Now at first I was hesitant to open myself up to this film because I thought it would be like Twilight/Blood and Chocolate/True Blood/The Vampire Diaries/(insert vampire movie here). However, I was pleasantly surprised with Fright Night. Not so much because of the 3D but more because of how much I didn't really mind watching it in3D. In fact, it kind of recalls campier 3D movies of the 80s but does it one better.

The basic plot of the films consists of what happens after Charley Brewster, a native of Los Vegas, discovers that his neighbor, Jerry, is a vampire.

Interestingly, instead of the audience pulling out their hair for an hour and a half while the protagonist tries to find a way to convince the people around him that there's a monster who lives next door, this film has everyone believe him from the get-go. This made the experience more like rooting for a sport team than getting pissed off at how stupid everyone is. The audience was really excited for him to conquer the vampire (well, at least me and my mom were, we were the only ones in the theater...not an uncommon occurence...).

But even more than cheerleading for the good guys against the bad guys, this movie relates more to a teenage audience than even Twilight does. Or, probably more accurately, if Twilight applies to girls, Fright Night would apply more to boys. It's less about emotions and more about growing up. The main subplot of the film is basically Charley learning how to be an adult and still maintain his true personality. In the beginning he shrugs off his old nerdy friends for guys that are friends with his girlfriend, only to realize later that they're total assholes. Only later does he find out that his girlfriend already likes him for who he was before. Not only in terms of message, but also in terms of entertainment value, Fright Night blows Twilight out of the water. Probably one of the funniest characters in this film, showman turned vampire-hunter Peter Vincent (David Tennant) carries the majority of the laughs although Ed (Super Bad actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has quite a few moments himself.

On another level, though, this movie does get pretty creepy. Even more in tune with a boy audience, Fright Night strives to wipe away the angelic view of vampires that the latest trends seem to be pushing. Far from being glamorous (although, let's all admit, Colin Farrell is far from hard on the eyes) the vampires look like demons when they reveal themselves. When Jerry's true self is revealed in one of the final scenes, his face looks more like an demon's than a human's, with rows of teeth and blind rage.

All analysis aside, though, the show is pretty entertaining. Comic relief follows those intense moments of quiet that happen so often in scary movies and Yelchin is believable as a nerd-turned-popular kid. Also nice to see Farrell acting in a part that's so intense. He's terrifying as the creepy vampire neighbor and then even more so when he is on a rampage later in the film.

Four outa five.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

You Again: Good Ole Fashioned Fluff

So recently I've found myself upping my usual intake of what I like to call "fluffy" movies, or rather, any movie with bad acting, a weak plot, cheesy music, and bad scripting (see Revenge of the Bridesmaids, Heartbreakers, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, etc). Now don't ask me why, but for some reason these movies always seem to put me in a better mood. Maybe it's the vapid dialogue, the gender stereotypes, the shallow romance plots, or maybe just the fact that the studios obviously knew that these films were definitely not going to be up for Oscars (something un-pretentious about it). I don't know. But one of these fluffy movies flew into my Netflix recommendations a few days ago and I saw myself utterly delighted with it.

Maybe you don't recall seeing the previews for the movie You Again starring Kristen Bell and newcomer Odette Annable. In case you don't recall the previews, the plot is basically a cross between 27 Dresses and Never Been Kissed. Marni (Bell) was a loser in high school who is now a big successful communications agent person. About 20 minutes into the movie she finds out that her high school tormentor JJ (Annable) is about to marry her brother, with whom she's very close (and who is inexplicably and unbelievably happy for the entire movie). To add to the drama between Marni and Joanna (JJ), there is added tension introduced between Marni's mother, Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), and her high school best friend, Ramona (Sigourney Weaver).

Predictably all hell breaks loose.

But there is a heart to this movie that makes it cute, and maybe it's in the performances of the actors. As always, it's nice to see actors enjoying what they do without taking it too seriously, but in this film I feel like everyone was so relaxed that a bit of their true personalities seems to shine through. I say this with emphasis for Weaver and Curtis, who are absolutely hilarious as the two best friends turned "frennemies". Another great performance was by Bell, who is believable as the tormented teenager and also as the desperate sister.

All this being said, I wouldn't watch this movie expecting to nominate it for the next award or anything. The acting by lesser characters such as Marni's brother and even the evil Joanna are a bit vom-tacular. Every scene in which they are in love with each other makes you immediately sympathetic to Marni. But even if you don't watch it for the plot, watch it for the raucous cameos by Kristin Chenowith as the wedding planner and Betty White as the grandmother (look for the faceoff between her and Cloris Leachman!).

all in all, 3 outa 5.

another POC movie riddled with plot holes...

What the heck Disney? You couldn’t get it right the third sequel in? Come on now. Though I have to admit my expectations weren’t very high after the travesties that were Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, I had a little hope for Stranger Tides. But alas! It’s like hoping for redemption from M. Night Shyamalan (who, by the way, I’m also still secretly pulling for). Stranger Tides left me feeling about as bewildered as I had after seeing 20 Jack Sparrows on that ship in the middle of that white thing in number 2 (or was it 3…).

For one thing, this movie (like the others) has gone waaaay over-the-top in terms of inexplicable mystical realism. While in the first film, the characters were shocked and amazed to find the crew of the Black Pearl able to turn into skeletons at the full moon, such phenomena in the fourth installment barely bat an eyelash and the lack of explanation for these strange things left me extremely confused. Among such unexplained elements were a fortune-telling zombie, Blackbeard the pirate controlling his ship by magic hand flutters, actual ships held in bottles, and vampire-mermaids to name a few.

But even besides the fantastic bits the plot was as riddled with holes as a block of swiss cheese. We see Angelica as the newly discovered daughter of Blackbeard but we are never told how they know for sure; they are on a quest for the fountain of youth but we are never really told why; they seem to add a lot of elements of religion only to completely drop them; and the most pressing, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MISSIONARY AND THE MERMAID?!? Perhaps the others can be overlooked but I was pissed off leaving the theater simply because the fine directors and script writers at Disney couldn’t find a simple ending to the romance between the missionary and his sympathetic mermaid? Basically as it ends and he is slashed at the stomach telling her what a great person she is, she says “I can save you!”, takes him, dives under the water with him and then…THEY CUT TO ANOTHER SCENE. And really, this trivial plot point had barely been necessary to the entire story. The missionary was a totally expendable character and the mermaid, while unfortunately treated, didn’t really have much to do with the central plot either. In fact there seemed to be a lot of strange things added into the plot for pure whimsy: the bit with Jack and Barbosa in the treasure-filled tree-ship, Gibbs just…as a character, Jack leaving Angelica deserted on an island, Keith Richards again…as a character in general, and even the Spanish Armada (what the heck were they doing in there and why didn’t they speak to Angelica in Spanish).

Perhaps the one redeeming factor for the movie was the fact that it still had the same awesome characters (probably the main reason people keep returning to see these films). Johnny Depp as CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow was, as always, very hilarious and Barbosa marauding as a naval officer was hilarious. Even Gibbs, though I couldn’t find a purpose for which he would be in the film, was a comfort to see on the screen. Even the new characters weren’t bad. I enjoyed Penelope Cruz as Angelica (though I highly doubt that her character would allow herself to be left on an island alone) and even Blackbeard had some interesting spunk (I liked how they set his beard smoking at one point, which was something that he actually DID to intimidate his foes). Also the painstaking details to these characters and to the movie as a whole rendered the film watchable. With really dirty characters and impressive sets I think that this movie would be worth seeing only if you are literally in love with Johnny Depp or if you are a big fan of the franchise and don’t pay attention to plot.

three stars outa five.